Pain currently represents the most common symptom for which medical attention is sought by patients. The available treatments have limited effectiveness and significant side-effects. In addition, most often, the duration of analgesia is short. Today, the handling of pain remains a major challenge. One promising alternative for the discovery of novel potent analgesics is to take inspiration from Mother Nature; in this context, the detailed investigation of the intriguing analgesia implemented in Buruli ulcer, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans
and characterized by painless ulcerative lesions, seems particularly promising. More precisely, in this disease, the painless skin ulcers are caused by mycolactone, a polyketide lactone exotoxin. In fact, mycolactone exerts a wide range of effects on the host, besides being responsible for analgesia, as it has been shown notably to modulate the immune response or to provoke apoptosis. Several cellular mechanisms and different targets have been proposed to account for the analgesic effect of the toxin, such as nerve degeneration, the inhibition of inflammatory mediators and the activation of angiotensin II receptor 2. In this review, we discuss the current knowledge in the field, highlighting possible controversies. We first discuss the different pain-mimicking experimental models that were used to study the effect of mycolactone. We then detail the different variants of mycolactone that were used in such models. Overall, based on the results and the discussions, we conclude that the development of mycolactone-derived molecules can represent very promising perspectives for new analgesic drugs, which could be effective for specific pain indications.
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